Pengal Santhippu (Women’s Gathering), a feminist group of Tamil speaking women – both Tamil and Muslim – based in Europe and North America have urged the government of Sri Lanka to respect the religious rights of minority communities and allow burials of the COVID infected dead.
Issuing a statement on the forcible cremations of COVID-related deaths in Sri Lanka, the group demanded that the government of Sri Lanka refrain from discriminatory practices, do not seek to marginalise and isolate minority communities and respect and uphold their human rights.
We publish below the statement in full:
We at Pengal Santhippu express our outright condemnation of the inhumane, racist policy of the chauvinist government of Sri Lanka, which orders the mandatory cremation of Muslims who are believed to have died of COVID.
We offer our whole-hearted support and join in the countrywide white cloth-tying symbolic protests (Kafan), which demand that Muslims be allowed to observe the religious funerary rites.
The policy of forcible cremations of the dead from religious minorities who are believed to have died of a COVID virus infection, against their religious beliefs, is a deliberate breach of their human rights.
More than eighty Muslims have been forcibly cremated to date. Two babies who died days after their birth were also forcibly cremated without the consent of their parents. This has created a sense of deep sorrow and fear amongst the Muslim community.
The WHO and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have set out guidelines for standard operating procedures in disposing of dead bodies, which say that COVID-infected dead bodies can be either buried or cremated. They emphasise that the prescribed safety procedures can be observed during burials in accordance with the individual’s religious beliefs and that there is no risk of the virus spreading from dead bodies.
The government of Sri Lanka ignores this advice and with no scientific basis has mandated the cremation of bodies of suspected COVID deaths. This clearly exposes the deliberate policy of targeting the Muslim minority community by the government of Sri Lanka.
The eleven petitions made by affected families to the Supreme Court demanding the right to bury their dead have all been dismissed without any reason being given. This is clear evidence of the rapid politicisation of the judiciary in Sri Lanka in recent times.
The constitution of Sri Lanka states that while Buddhism is to be given the foremost place other religions also should be accorded due respect. However, the government’s racist policies and actions threaten the good will and relations of co-existence between communities in our pluralist nation.
We extend our sympathy to our brothers and sisters who are not able to carry out the last rites for their loved ones in accordance with their religious beliefs. We partake in their sorrow and offer solace.
· We demand that the government of Sri Lanka respect the religious rights of minority communities and allow burials of the COVID infected dead.
· We demand that the government of Sri Lanka refrain from discriminatory practices, do not seek to marginalise and isolate minority communities and respect and uphold their human rights.
We shall raise our unified voices, as Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and Malay – all citizens of our pluralist nation, and as people who understand and shield one another and against the oppression of any amongst us.